As life slows down in lockdown, so does the output of the global fashion industry. Faced with this lull, now is the time to cast a critical eye over our favourite brands and be brave enough to question their ethics.
Fast fashion might be cheap and cheerful, but the environmental cost is no laughing matter. In order to thrive, the model relies on low-cost manufacturing, frequent consumption and short-lived garment use. Not only does this guarantee low wages for the people making our clothes, it also means poor quality materials and thus more items ending up in landfill. 92 million tonnes of waste is created by the industry every year – let that sink in.
If we are to re-assess what we want from our wardrobes, it’s important to invest in brands championing supply chain traceability and durable materials that are made to last.
What about sustainable swimwear?
Sisters Sophie and Georgia Habboo spend a lot of time abroad, but felt that buying a new bikini for every holiday seemed wasteful.
Spotting a gap in the market in 2019, they made the decision to launch eco-friendly swimwear brand, Gi Swim, in May of this year. “Gi is my nickname,” Georgia laughs, “but it means earth in Greek, so we liked it because it meant there was meaning behind the name.”
Known for her role in British reality TV show Made in Chelsea, Sophie Habboo has over 300,000 followers on Instagram and is no stranger to brand deals and partnerships. But Gi Swim is a whole new venture - the sisters stress that they wanted to be mindful when creating the brand, “rather than just contributing to fast fashion and the negative impact it has on the environment,” explains Sophie.
Gi swim bikinis are made from regenerated nylon which is a product of waste, deriving from fishing nets, fabric scraps from mills and carpets destined for landfill. Using regenerated nylon reduces the overall environmental impact of nylon by up to 80 per cent, they claim. Brand packaging and labels are 100 per cent recycled and compostable too.
What inspired them to delve into sustainable bikinis? “Both of our parents live abroad,” says Georgia. “Our dad lives in Marbella and our mum lives in Portugal, so we spend a lot of time there. But the more we started looking into the idea of a bikini brand, the more we knew we had to do it differently.”
“Not many people actually know about the impact fast fashion has on the environment and there aren’t many options for people out there,” Sophie agrees.
For Georgia, getting rid of clothing that she might have worn for just one summer seemed wrong. “What really shocked me was you don’t realise how much people throw away after one season. We used to buy a bikini for one holiday and just get a new set the next year.”
“You get a bit of sun cream on it and you throw it away!” says Sophie.
“We thought it was fine because it’s a cheap £20 bikini from ASOS, but it’s not because that’s really damaging.”
This was the pivotal point when the sisters agreed that using recycled materials would be the best way to enter the swimwear market with an edge. First on their list, finding a fully sustainable factory. “We use a little, ethical warehouse in Bali which is completely sustainable - from fabric printing to eco-friendly packaging.”
Both describe how invested they are in the Indonesian factory and how much they admire the work that they do. “We have a Whatsapp group together, it’s a small team and we speak to them all the time - we’re great friends.”
After choosing a factory, the next step was deciding on a green supplier. Econyl seemed to be the best option on the regenerated nylon market. “I just love how they are actively cleaning the oceans,” Georgia says. “They take fishing nets and rubbish and turn it into something good,” Sophie adds.
As a result, high quality fabric and careful manufacturing means items last longer. “We’ve put a lot of emphasis on quality when it comes to our bikinis. We make sure everything is double lined and double layered because we want them to last you all your seasons, so you can keep them for a long time.”
‘We try our best, but at the end of the day, no one’s perfect’
In the last few years, transparency has become a real concern for a lot of brands. If you’re in the public eye, it’s easy to get attacked for not practicing what you preach and fans are quick to point out the hypocrisy on social media. Whether it's flying to a climate change conference via private jet, or so-called ‘eco warrior’ celebs being outed for promoting fast fashion.
For clothing companies claiming to be green, the Global Fashion Agenda specifies eight criteria they should be aiming for in order to be truly climate conscious. From sustainable materials to efficient use of energy and water, advocating for better wage systems and operating on a circular system – there’s lots to be aware of. Never mind the more everyday lifestyle choices we can undertake, like going vegan or choosing to phase out single-use plastic.
For Sophie and Georgia, the expectation to appear ‘perfect’, as owners of a sustainable brand, is something the pair have been acutely aware of. How do they feel about the idea of green scrutiny?
“It’s difficult. The reason we chose to use these suppliers was because they operate fully sustainably, compared to others we looked at,” explains Georgia.
“It’s the things I wouldn’t even have thought about, like how they print their fabrics, their packaging, the green element is always at the forefront. So that made it stand out to us.”
When it comes to their daily lives, the sisters both try not to buy plastic and don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs. “We do sometimes eat fish!”, they exclaim together, but say they’re trying to cut down.
Importantly, Sophie and Georgia don’t pretend to be something they aren’t. They admit to their shortcomings and are open and honest, which they hope helps consumers trust the brand.
Like many of us, both are still tempted by fast fashion. “I won’t lie, I definitely used to shop a lot in Zara and all of these high street brands. I’m not perfect, I still shop there, but I’m so much more conscious of what I’m buying now, after having started this journey,” says Georgia.
Ultimately, they conclude, there will always be haters, but it’s better to do your bit, than to give up out of fear of being criticised. “I think you get scrutinised in everything, whatever you do,” says Sophie.
“We put a lot of effort into the business and I’m quite confident that I really look after the planet as much as I can,” Sophie concludes. “You don’t want to preach about it, because people won’t like that, and you have to realise that you can’t please everybody. Everyone’s always going to have something negative to say, so it’s about staying true to yourself.”
Gi Swim bikinis come in three core styles, the Paloma, the Lucia and the Elia. The mix and match tops and bottoms are available in two patterns and three plain colours, black, white and peach. The eco-friendly bikinis are available for shipping all over Europe.